Senior Courts Costs Office
No.17 of 2002
Booth v Britannia Hotels Ltd
26 March 2002
The Court of Appeal: Kennedy, Jonathan Parker LJJ & Sir Swinton Thomas
The Claimant worked as a part time chambermaid at a Manchester Hotel, where, on 14 November 1991, she sustained a minor crush injury to her left hand while making a bed. She was then aged 17½. Three years later she started proceedings in Oldham County Court and the Claimant rejected the payment in of £1,000 made the following year on the basis that she was now suffering from reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). This clearly had a dramatic effect on the quantum of the claim, and as a result the issues of liability and quantum were ordered to be tried separately. In November 1996 the Defendants increased their payment into court to the sum of £2,500. On 10 December 1996 after a two day trial judgment was given for the Claimant on the issue of liability, with costs on County Court Scale 2, and damages were ordered to be assessed. A year later, by consent, an order was made transferring the issue of quantum to the High Court, where, in April 1998 a trial was fixed for five days, starting on 9 December 1998.
Two months after judgment had been given in relation to liability the Defendants' agents made periodic video recordings of the Claimant. Recordings were made on 24 February and 12 June 1997; 30 September and 2 October 1998. All recordings, but particularly the last two, showed a full range of movement in the left hand, which, in the firm opinion of the Defendants' medical adviser, was not consistent with RSD. In October 1998 the Claimant's final schedule of loss sought £617,000. Some five weeks before trial on quantum the Defendants disclosed their video recordings to the Claimant.
As a result the Claimant decided to accept the £2,500 in court, and together with the CRU payments, which totalled £24,552, though these were later reduced to £633.36. The Defendants agreed in the consent order to pay the Claimant's costs on the standard basis.
The Claimant's bill sought to recover £82,839.86, together with VAT of £13,255.64. The Defendants submitted that it was unreasonable to incur costs of £92,000 in respect of a claim which settled for £2,500.
The District Judge before whom the assessment of costs first came ordered the Defendants to pay all the liability costs and 60% of the costs in relation to quantum. As a result of her detailed consideration of the bill she allowed £16,000 for legal liability costs and £34,688.33 for the quantum costs, after taking into account the 40% reduction.
The Court of Appeal, which heard this appeal days after the decision in Lownds v Home Office, held that the District Judge was wrong to order the Defendant to pay 40% of the Claimants quantum costs. The video evidence was only disclosed at a relatively late stage because it was not conclusive until then. The costs were accordingly remitted to the District Judge for re-assessment in the light of the judgment if they could not be agreed.
The case is of interest, because, although decided after Lownds, it adopted a different approach to the question of proportionality.